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Gephardt: Can You Get A Vacation Rental Refund When Natural Disaster Strikes?

KEARNS, Utah – The pandemic has left thousands of would-be travelers without refunds, but what about when a natural disaster torches your vacation plans?

When a devastating wildfire cut off roads and made a VRBO rental unreachable for a Utah man, he found his request for a refund was going nowhere, so he turned to the KSL Investigators for help.

Richard McCune and his family love traveling to the Oregon coast for their family reunions. Theyve done for it several years now. This past September when they planned another reunion, McCune got word that a raging wildfire had burned its way to their destination. The day before departure, he got through to the owner of the home rental he booked and paid $2,000 for.

And he said, ‘Well, the power is out right now. Theres restrictions on getting into the city and things like that and the air quality is certainly bad,’ recounted McCune. And so, we mutually decided we would cancel the reservation.

Turns out, it wasn’t so mutual. Weeks later, McCune only got a $400 damage deposit back. Making matters worse, the owner stopped talking.

Weve made repeated phone calls, left voicemails, text, emails through VRBO, he said.

McCune booked the rental through VRBO, and he said they werent much help.

They say that only the property owner can authorize a refund, he said. 

Richard McCune’s vacation to the Oregon coast was canceled because of wildfires. The KSL Investigators helped get a refund. (KSL-TV)

McCune said that VRBO even sent multiple messages to the owner and still he did not hear a response.

Worried that $1,600 was about to go up in smoke, McCune decided it was time to contact the KSL Investigators and we reached out to both VRBO and the owner of the home rental on his behalf. Neither responded to us.

We began by looking at VRBO’s terms and conditions and, indeed, they spell out that choosing to grant a refund for canceled travel plans is up to the host — even in the event of a disaster. They will mediate disputes between renters and hosts but they will not guarantee refunds even in events beyond the renters control like natural disasters or pandemics.

What about an owner who doesnt respond to anyone? We asked VRBO about that, too, with no answer. Perhaps one of them got the message because days later, McCune got his full refund. 

The biggest frustration he said was the hosts silence.

Just tell us to go to heck if you want to, you know, or whatever, said McCune.

The takeaway for everyone is if you’re booking lodging through VRBO, Airbnb, or whatever home rental, look at each listings fine print carefully because each has its own cancellation policy. Some owners are very flexible, others are very strict while others fall somewhere in between.

You may want to consider cancel for any reason travel insurance.

KSL 5 TV Live